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Thread: Climb it First?

  1. #1
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    Climb it First?

    I was flipping through a guidebook this weekend and the author got into a bit of a discussion that you should always climb a route first that you intend to ski. And it got me thinking that I rarely climb lines that I ski, unless it's the only choice. If I see an ascent route that is easier, faster, and most of all less subject to objective dangers like cornices, rockfall, exposure, and avalanche hazards, I will take the easy way around most of the time. There are other places in the world like the Alps where that's a bad idea, due to descent hazards like blue ice (Hans Saari on the Gervasutti), but in CO and many other places, it seems like it's less and less common to always climb it first.

    Anyway, just curious what others think.

  2. #2
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    Agreed. Its rarely necessary to climb things first here unless there is something you anticipate seeing that would make you not ski it by some chance.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by trogdortheburninator View Post
    Agreed. Its rarely necessary to climb things first here unless there is something you anticipate seeing that would make you not ski it by some chance.
    This is the key to me... here in the Wasatch at least you rarely encounter a pitch of ice or anything that comes out of nowhere. I guess if I were skiing lines in Tuckerman ravine I might boot them first to make sure they weren't too icy.

    I suppose you could argue that from a risk management standpoint, unless you are willing to be exposed to avalanche risk the entire way up the line, then you shouldn't be skiing it (in other words, only go when it's really really safe, and that means safe enough to climb it) but as a practical matter it just seems unwise to me. Why expose yourself to more risk than necessary?

  4. #4
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    Were you reading Lou Dawson's guide, GB? Some years back I got a little conflicted because he wrote that you should climb La Plata's north face/couloir before skiing it, but we went up the much easier ridge to the west...and survived.

    Since then I've been a lot less consistent about it. If it makes sense not to, I don't and don't much worry about it. Besides, a significant number of local backcountry shots are best accessed from the other side of the ridge.
    And I guess that I just don't know

  5. #5
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  6. #6
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    Depends on the (expected) avalanche and route conditions
    "The idea wasnt for me, that I would be the only one that would ever do this. My idea was that everybody should be doing this. At the time nobody was, but this was something thats too much fun to pass up." -Briggs
    Quote Originally Posted by LeeLau View Post
    Wear your climbing harness. Attach a big anodized locker to your belay loop so its in prime position to hit your nuts. Double russian Ti icescrews on your side loops positioned for maximal anal rape when you sit down. Then everyone will know your radness
    More stoke, less shit.

  7. #7
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    http://www.adn.com/adventure/outdoor...ending-denali/ no mention if he climbed it first. I like to climb it first to know conditions. Funny that a guy that gets paid to put wannabes on steep lines to film themselves should be saying this.
    off your knees Louie

  8. #8
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    Avalanche-wise, it's generally better to go around. Usually things are steepest at the top, and almost always the most reactive wind-affected snow is at the top, that gives you the chance to do a good cut, or cut and beat on the snowpack on belay. For figuring out if something is skiable, it is a great help to climb up it. Lots of lines around here that you want to know if there's enough or hard enough snow on glacial ice. But then you're subject to all the overhead hazard, for more than 10x as long.

  9. #9
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    It depends.

  10. #10
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    Agreed with what others have said here - I generally do not climb what I'm going to ski if there is an easier or safer route available. I don't like to spend any more time than absolutely necessary exposed to danger from above.

    I tend to climb my descent route when one or more of the following applies:
    -there are significant routefinding/navigation challenges on the descent, where a wrong turn down a complex face could lead to getting cliffed out
    -there is a potential rock or ice crux that I need to evaluate before committing to skiing down into it.
    -the line is the fastest/most efficient climbing route AND mostly free of objective hazard (avalanche, rockfall, other skiers/climbers/etc.)

    Most of the time in CO I find that leads me to climbing ridges or mellower lines than my eventual ski descent.

  11. #11
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    Another consideration is other parties who might drop in on top of you unknowingly if you are climbing the route. Especially these days when backcountry routes are seeing more traffic than ever. You'd be pretty dumb to climb up the Silver on a Saturday.

  12. #12
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    Climb it First?

    Quote Originally Posted by shredgnar View Post
    Another consideration is other parties who might drop in on top of you unknowingly if you are climbing the route. Especially these days when backcountry routes are seeing more traffic than ever. You'd be pretty dumb to climb up the Silver on a Saturday.
    Yeah. I've sworn off Dragonstail Couloir b/c of this - if you climb it someone is likely to ski on top of you. If you come in from the top you're likely to ski down on top of others. I triggered a very small slab a few years back in there that ran the entire couloir to the lake and would have taken a climber out and fucked him/them up.

    In general on big more unknown Lines going up would be better but usually I'll take the easier and/or less exposed route up.

    I think that classic dogma comes from the European roots of ski mountaineering. There you might very well find ice mid line and be screwed ala Hans Saari if coming from above or discover bad slabs as you trigger them.

  13. #13
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    So location/conditions dependent

    As others have noted, it's a trade-off: spending more time in potentially dangerous terrain on the climb versus being able to closely inspect the line you are going to ski.

    The value of that trade-off is entirely dependent upon conditions and location.

    As a native northeastern skier, we were taught to always climb what we were planning to ski because of the relative likelihood of unknown and unseen hazards (rocks, ice, weak layers, etc) on the descent route. The trade-off was almost always worthwhile.

    When I moved out to CA and started skiing with Sierra veterans, I quickly learned that the same trade-off is almost never worthwhile here. But there are exceptions - like after a big wind event following a big dump following a long dry spell.

    The key to all of this, of course, is knowing your location well enough to make the right call. And that only comes from local experience, which only comes from skiing with folks who have local experience. So seek out those locals and learn all you can. And welcome those non-locals eager to learn from you.

  14. #14
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    Thanks for all the responses. I was mostly just curious if anyone subscribed to the climb it first philosophy all the time. Sounds like maybe BFD, with most everyone else on the "it depends" train...

  15. #15
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    I do.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by rod9301 View Post
    I do.
    Why? Just curious, not saying either is right.
    Last edited by goldenboy; 11-02-2016 at 08:04 AM.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by angrysasquatch View Post
    Avalanche-wise, it's generally better to go around. Usually things are steepest at the top, and almost always the most reactive wind-affected snow is at the top, that gives you the chance to do a good cut, or cut and beat on the snowpack on belay. For figuring out if something is skiable, it is a great help to climb up it. Lots of lines around here that you want to know if there's enough or hard enough snow on glacial ice. But then you're subject to all the overhead hazard, for more than 10x as long.
    R.I.P.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by goldenboy View Post
    Why? Just , not saying either is right.
    To see the conditions in the couloir, any hidden ice. I try to determine the avie risk before I go out that day. Then I sometimes dig a small pit at the bottom to see if a failure would propagate.

  19. #19
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    To add to my post, it's true that the wind loading would be at the top.
    But the real danger is that small wind slab would trigger a weak layer in the snowpack.
    If I'm comfortable that the snow is not cohesive enough, I climb it. When I get to the top, I can see evidence of wind slabs, then decide if I want to top out.

    It's probably only me, but hidden ice under powder scares me, I've seen bad accidents due to this.

  20. #20
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    Depends on a variety of factors appears to be consensus and i certainly agree. Really like climbing lines myself. Makes the ride down more enjoyable since I know exactly what awaits me.

  21. #21
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    Climb it First?

    It'd be interesting to do an analysis of ski mountaineering accidents or fatalities and see what the balance of climbing the route versus another route would tell you about the relative danger. Of course you'd have to draw conclusions about accidents that sometimes are not clearly attributable to one decision or cause.

    Just off the top of my head:

    Hans Saari - descending line not climbed, fell on ice that might have been discovered on ascent. ( yeah who'd do that off of the Aguilar du Midi)

    Arne Backstrom - descending line not climbed, fell on ice that might have been discovered on ascent.

    Fransson and Auclair - caught in avalanche ascending complex couloir system

    Kip Garre and Allison Kreutzen - caught in avalanche ascending couloir system

    Maybe there is a clear pattern to draw out of it to dictate one or the other as the superior technique or maybe there are specific sub rules that come out like 'don't descend terrain with possible unknown hazards that are likely like ice/cliffs, etc without ascending the line' or 'avoid ascending couloir systems in all but the lowest danger due to the exposure from any release above.'

  22. #22
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    Climb it First?

    I too would love to see some data on this, but I imagine it'd be impossible to calculate the relative accident rates from each approach given that we'd never know their relative frequency. Plus, as most have said, the suitability of each approach seems to be highly condition-dependent (e.g. boot it when there's a fall risk, come over the top when there's a slide risk).

    FWIW, Andrew McLean of straightchuter also seems to be an advocate of the climb-it-first approach...

  23. #23
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    Heard Lou Dawson pipe in on this topic on the Totally Deep Podcast. Unless you need to check out the line for ice or other hazards, taking it for the top was better and safer in his esteem.

  24. #24
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    most applicable to late spring summer skiing for hazards in the corn

  25. #25
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    I generally ski more confidently/have more fun if i am aware of the conditions the whole way down. So I prefer to climb up the line but my preferences don't always win.
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